Three fun poems that will bring curiosity into your 6th grade classroom | Mentoring in the Middle

Three fun poems that will bring curiosity into your 6th grade classroom

A Poem for teachers too, perhaps?
I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

Introduction to Poetry by Billy Collins

I had to laugh when I read this poem.  We sometimes do this to our students when we teach poetry, don't we?  I remember trying to help my students make sense of Ozymandias, as they learned to annotate poems.  Oh, my!

Ultimately, it's more fun for us and better for our students if we can "waterski across the surface of the poem" observing the details here and there, rather than beating it to death.  Our students might be more willing to move beyond Shel Silverstein if we do.

Poems that make you smile
Here's the poem, Oranges, by Gary Soto.

The first time I walked 
With a girl, 
I was twelve, 
Cold, and weighted down 
With two oranges in my jacket. 
Frost cracking 
Beneath my steps, my breath 
Before me, then gone, 
As I walked toward 
Her house, the one whose 
Porch light burned yellow 
Night and day, in any weather. 
A dog barked at me, until 
She came out pulling 
At her gloves, face bright 
With rouge. I smiled, 
Touched her shoulder, and led 
Her down the street, across 
A used car lot and a line 
Of newly planted trees, 
Until we were breathing 
Before a drugstore. 
We Entered, the tiny bell 
Bringing a saleslady 
Down a narrow aisle of goods. 
I turned to the candies 
Tiered like bleachers, 
And asked what she wanted - 
Light in her eyes, a smile 
Starting at the corners 
Of her mouth. I fingered 
A nickel in my pocket,
And when she lifted a chocolate 
That cost a dime, 
I didn't say anything. 
I took the nickel from 
My pocket, then an orange, 
And set them quietly on 
The counter. 
When I looked up, 
The lady's eyes met mine, 
And held them, knowing 
Very well what it was all 
Outside, A few cars hissing past, 
Fog hanging like old 
Coats between the trees. 
I took my girl's hand 
In mine for two blocks, 
Then released it to let 
Her unwrap the chocolate. 
I peeled my orange 
That was so bright against 
The gray of December 
That, from some distance, 
Someone might have thought 
I was making a fire in my hands. 

Poem lyrics that challenge
This poem takes a little bit of work to understand because of the language.  There is no Frigate Like a Ship was written by Emily Dickinson in 1873.  But it's worth digging into!  Give students the meanings of the four unknown words and let them see what they come up with.  

This might be a good poem for partners or small groups to read together.  It might be fun to have them draw what they see when they understand what Dickinson was saying!
  1. frigate=ship
  2. coursers=hunters
  3. traverse=roaming, walking
  4. oppress=suffering.
There is no frigate like a book
To take us lands away,
Nor any coursers like a page
Of prancing poetry.
This traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of toll;
How frugal is the chariot
That bears a human soul!

Other Poems that move 6th graders
The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost
I, Too by Langston Hughes
The Wind by Robert Louis Stevenson (good for teaching point of view)
Still I Rise by Maya Angelou
Lend a Hand by Anonymous
The World's Fastest Bicycle by Kenn Nesbitt
Mother to Son by Langston Hughes (this one ended up on our state test some years ago)
Stormy Sunday by Sharon Waller Knutson (good for alliteration)

Here's a fun exercise for your students.  Have them tell about their lives by writing - or using lyrics from poems or songs - to explain their setting, themselves as a character, and their rising action

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